June 29, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: Santa Barbara Independent

This week's edition of SR is all about the work I did for the Independent, Santa Barbara's alternative weekly paper. For most of that time, the Indy was run out of a second-floor office space right next to SoHO, downtown SB's banner venue for club-level gigs, so from my perception there was a certain scene that evolved out of that combination that I really wanted to get involved in. Involved in several preposterously unlikely ways, of course: I wanted my bands to be feted and my brilliant way with written language to be acknowledged by the local elite hipper-than-thou tastemakers, who I naively and enviously presumed these people to be.

Naturally, almost all of my assumptions were wildly wrong, but no one held that against me. After I'd quit two successive jobs at some point in 2000, I began pestering the Indy's arts editor, a Brit transplanted-via-Canada named Duncan Wright, for some writing assignments to cut my teeth outside the world of the Nexus and UCSB. Duncan played guitar for several bands in town, but I mostly knew him best as lead axeman for bands run by the Villalobos siblings: Gina (the Mades) and Rey (the Coral Sea). Duncan took pity on me for some reason and asked me to try out with some work on Positively State St., a sort of "what's happening this week in Santa Barbara music" column. These State St. columns required a style and voice somewhere between slavish, scenster-ific boosterism and detached, knowing cool- or so I thought, because those were the columns that ran- and were usually between 750-900 words.

I didn't end up doing substantial amounts of work for the Independent, but whenever I went to cover local shows (sometimes with Emily in tow) it was always a blast, even after my Mojo Wire or Honey White demos had been either ignored or rejected by the venue's promoters. Duncan was fun to write for, too- mostly because I was never in the office and all our communication was over email, so everything was EXTREMELY URGENT to a laughable degree. However, in person Daddy Dunc was the epitome of cool. After one gig where he was playing bass for local roots-rocker Lance Parker, Duncan introduced me to his friends as "one of my new columnists, a really great writer," and I was so embarrassed that I had to qualify that "I've only written one column so far." Whereupon Duncan taught me a belated lesson in fake-it-til-you-make-it: "Keir, no one knows that you've only done one, so you needn't admit it." Yes, he actually said "needn't."

Anyway, I actually did end up making lots of connections and friends within the multi-layered Santa Barbara music scene, and almost all of them can be traced back to the work I did for the Indy. For example: the Mojo Wire and Honey White practiced regularly at Earl Arnold's rehearsal space: his T-shirt printing office called Table Salt. I met Earl through Norm and Johanna Reed, from the mighty and weird band Buttcheek Doofus, who I'd profiled enthusiastically in a Positively State St. So I guess I did learn how to network after all.

As before, click on a link to read the whole column:

Stowed Away with a Few Pints (Jan. 27, 2001)
This one was one of my tryouts for Duncan, a nominal stab at the Positively State St. format. It wasn't awful, but I hadn't learned to condense information or cover multiple venues yet. I also think that I was still having trouble "formalizing" my writing away from the gonzo-aping style that I did for the Nexus.

Tonight most of the excitement and variety comes in the guise of the many incentives I have to use to convince my girlfriend to come with me: "Hey, maybe we'll meet KEYT's John Palminteri again!"; "I'll make all the trips to the peanut barrel for you!"; or even "Well, it can only be better than last time, right?" She's less than impressed; she knows my real reason for crawling around downtown this time is to hawk demos of my own rock and roll band, the Mojo Wire, to various club promoters and managers, and she wants no part of it, despite the promise of our favorite Irish pub as the eventual destination.
Positively State St: How to Survive Your Own Tour (Feb. 22, 2001)
My first column that actually ran in the paper almost didn't happen, since I didn't really know anything about the downtown SB scene, even at that late date, and was panicking over what to write. Fortunately I was unemployed at the time, and so while wandering through the UCSB university center Hub during the day, I felt extremely fortunate to hear a gorgeous voice floating out from the stage. It was none other than singer-songwriter Jenni Alpert, and my column wrote itself. This was actually before I knew Duncan played in several bands, but thankfully he didn't call me on my basic ignorance of how a tour worked.
[Dawn] Thomas was holding up well despite waking up at 4 a.m., but she wasn’t looking forward to the six-hour drive to their next stop in Mountain View. Alpert, used to such cross-country treks playing to small audiences, is unfazed. How does the veteran road rat make people care? “Nobody cares,” she matter-of-factly replied. “You have to care yourself or else it’s not worth it.” Apparently taking additional cues from the Ani DiFranco school of self-empowerment, Jenni Alpert is persistent and confident enough to record her own songs, manage her own affairs, and book her own tours—but all with a little help from her friends.
Positively State St: Super Chick-Rock Bonanza! (Mar. 22, 2001)
Yes, I was one of the multitudes of male rock fans hooked by the Titsofrenix, a local girl punk band who took downtown Santa Barbara by storm in 2001-2002. In my defense I will only say that Brookes, Allyn, and their crew (these days known as L.A.'s Bad Apple) snared Duncan just as bad, and he's almost ten years older than I am. This column also gave me a chance to promote my favorite local band, the Mades, a poppy roots-rock combo fronted by alt-country singer-songwriter Gina Villalobos, as well as a chance to bash jam bands, one of my favorite pastimes. Still, Mother Hips weren't bad, though of course none of them were actually female.
Despite its recent blunders (the tepidly bland Jonas/Cool Water Canyon snooze-a-thon and the well-meaning but unfortunately truncated Sugarcult release bash), the Edge made up ground on March 10 and presented a good case for itself with the fabulous Chick Rock Bonanza. Getting ahold of the Mades or the Titsofrenix (pictured above) is a good bet in itself, but the lethal combination of both with Rilo Kiley (but alas not Gush) destroyed all Saturday night competition.
Positively State St: In And Out Of Enemy Territory (Apr. 12, 2001)
I wondered sometimes if father-daughter combo Norm and Johanna Reed knew how fun it was for people to write about their band Buttcheek Doofus. Well, it was a gas for me, and I'm happy to have met them and their friends this way. BcD alas has not withstood the test of time, but Norm also plays in a local cover band and Johanna has of course gone on to many great things.
From their recent mauling of the Tom Waits tune “Filipino Box Spring Hog” at the Jolly Tiger’s February “Waits Tribute Show” to their hijacking of the Isla Vista rainforest benefit crowd at Giovanni’s in January, these resolute crazies have an impressive streak of musical individualism already on record—their genre-bending albums F.I.sh and april both melt time signatures at whiplash speed but still leave time for melody. If you’ve seen a show you know what I mean—the rabid anti-television and anti-Britney Spears rants of frontwoman Johanna anonymouS are consistent with one of the band’s guiding principles, “irreverently flipping the finger at the industry.” Indeed, their cheek-spanking new indie CD Highway Mona Lisa includes a bent little ditty called “I always wanted to name a song Bob Dylan” that takes on the Top Forty with breathless verbiage faster than “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.” Each of these little visions of Johanna is clear, concise, and exciting—especially live, so treat yourself and check them out.
Positively State St: Happily Running Amok Downtown (Apr. 12, 2001)
Duncan was aghast at the weirdness of Pixies drummer Dave Lovering selling merch while his ex-frontman Frank Black rocked out onstage, but that's really what happened. Stranger than that was the sight of all my recent columns combining and coming to life right in front of me.
I’ve had an exciting rock and roll two weeks. Following a superb Frank Black show and an even better Tom Petty concert (on Bob Dylan’s birthday!), my Mojo Wire compatriots and I had a blast this past Sunday, finishing up our new mini-album, You’re On Your Own, and playing as part of a pro-choice Reproductive Freedom rally in Isla Vista’s Anisq’ Oyo park. The event’s bill read like name-checks of every column I’ve written this year: Buttcheek Doofus still gleefully defied categorization while leaping from openers (at the previous Friday’s excellent Chick Rock Bonanza II at the Edge) to headliners in two days. Gravity Willing, perhaps suffering attrition from the all-day Saturday UCSB Extravaganza concert, showed up as a duo but still riveting, as if none the worse for wear. Terrific singer/songwriters Kirsten Candy, Thais Albert, and L.A.’s Jenni Alpert provided some mellow counterpoints between rock bands. Rounding out the lineup were melodic rockers The Bang, returning to I.V. from Ventura to reprise their unique Anglophile pastiche.
Positively State St: From Kountry to Klezmer (Jun. 7, 2003)
Between working 40 hours a week for UCSB again and starting up Honey White in 2002, I didn't get much time to spend on the Indy. However it all came roaring back once I quit my job again, so I took the opportunity to boost our buddy Earl.
More than a few of us owe our continual musical well-being to a man called Earl. Long a staple of cozy local venues like Bogart's and JoJo's (as well as countless others further afield), our favorite purveyor of frenetic fusionoid klezmer-boogie entered the studio last weekend to begin crafting a follow-up to the I Am Next To You album. Backing up His Earlness for this go-round will be stand-up bassist Jeff Kranzler as well as not one, but two extraordinary percussionists: longtime ally William Paisley on drums and new addition Matt Talmage on vibraphone. The latest combo, dubbed "Earl and the Expanding Polka Funk Experience" are set to show off the fruits of their labor on April 26, way up at the dizzying heights of the Cold Spring Tavern.
Sound & Fury Archive, 2001-2003 (Jun. 5, 2003)
Reviewing CDs for the Independent was sort of like Blender by the time I got involved in it. I'd done some short disc reviews for the Nexus, but Duncan kept a tighter leash on his reviewers, keeping all submissions at 90 words or less. It was a nice challenge, and I pulled some off pretty well.
Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Imperial Bedroom (Rhino)
Costello’s 1982 magnum opus is reissued for the second time, including a 23-song bonus disc of demos and alternate takes of the album’s 15 tunes. If you take the nerdy step of playing the bonus disc first, the flat, bristling demos of tracks like “Beyond Belief” and “Man Out Of Time” explode into pompous technicolor in their final, more familiar incarnations. Most surprising is the initial, flashy funk version of “Town Cryer,” light years from its eventual home as the album-closing ballad. 12/19/02
My run at the Independent kind of petered out once I discovered that I work inversely to the general drift of most journalism: I wait for assignments and then get verbally crazy within that framework, instead of going out to write a story and then pushing it on an editor. That was a good lesson to learn, but I'm also very grateful for the opportunity to meet so many great people and hear their fantastic tunes. So, next week's shameless revisionism may be a bit early-or late- but whenever it arrives, you will all be able to see exactly what happens to me when I'm given the oportunity to get truly, unbearably nerdy about a band that, for better or worse, is still one of my favorites. Yes, it's U2. No, I'm not sorry.

June 26, 2008

Five Vulgar Pictures of a Derivative Decade



Some say it begins with trauma. Others swear that it's as spontaneous and pure as two hundred Danish virgins. Still more insist that it's born of malignant ego or raging id. A smug few are convinced, and cannot be swayed, from the position that it's only deity-bestowed. They are all correct in small, insignificant ways, but for the most part they are hopelessly Wrong. It begins because it begins, a perfect storm of the above plus that one, fatal spark of initiation, that desperate, naked retaliatory impulse to emulate with extreme prejudice, to hack and slice and tear one's own permanent space of posterity into the great void of nothingness that each of us is banished to upon the inversely fortuitous day of our birth.

Either that or it's just something to do. Who the fuck knows? Shit, you didn't really think I was gonna go Ultra-Universal on your ass, did you? No way, not qualified, never in Hell. It began for me because someone- indeed, many someones- told me repeatedly that I was gifted, a genius even, and I believed them. I believed them because I was fucking Primed, see? Locked and loaded and ready to fucking go, dude. Prolonged adolescent innocence, well-placed among the most immediate and ready tools to perpetuate that condition, right there in the library. Awards from here to Labor Day Weekend. Looks and a name to make impressionable young women swoon at fifty paces. Scissor-step soccer skills. Empathetic ears for music and language and other such pleasurable sounds. Eccentric eyes for Art and Beauty in their highest and lowest and all other forms. Healthy entourages of friends and family and well-wishers and the whole fucking hundred yards of yellow brick road right in front of me.

And then...what, exactly? What was the final ingredient, the last catalyst for what has metastasized into the overwhelming desire to Recycle, Re-Issue, Re-Package? Nothing big. Just time. Time to sit and stew and reflect and replay and rethink and guess and what-if and why-not my way through the past fifteen years of more refortification than refinement. More rounding-off than rounding-up. More random explosions of useless language from a brain too immersed in it to enjoy anything less than Total Abuse of said medium for maximum personal amusement. And what horrors hath it wrought indeed: a cluster of distilled images sand-blasted into shape by repeated blunt, brute force. Five Vulgar Pictures painted in the medium of choice, the mangled spew of decades of Dubious Ventures condensed into hideous monuments to Idolatry and Worship of the absolute worst kind, that of the Self.

I. Don't Quit Your Day Job, Dude. Don't ever try to mar posterity forever with your twelve-bar ruses of instant gratification. Don't mix your drinks when there's no lifeguard on duty, don't employ performance enhancement when feeling gravity's pull, don't hit the skids when protrated sagas of paralysis and retaliatory self-martyrdom are few and far between. Why? Because there's always some reassembly required. Because everything saying otherwise is just lies, damned lies, and press releases, because...

II. Envious Fanboys Say the Damndest Things. You know they do. Stowed away with a few pints, dealing with the hassle of harsh realities at crunch time, happily running amok downtown, in and out of enemy territory, pulling off the perfect con, awash in the high sound and fury of whiplash in the peanut gallery. Always with the nerve to celebrate the fact that "my nose is still bleeding," as if it were some badge of honor, some universal mark of validation, some wholesome denial that...

III. The Consequences of Unleashing Raw Talent are severe. Always, and without exception, only bad mojo can arise from writing wretched breakup songs or solving the vexing percussion problem. It always leads to shameful disintegration on tour, whether in the form of a humorless weekend in Los Angeles or scrambled visions in Calabasas. Not to mention enduring the many pitfalls of stardom and the hopeless wankery of critics. Because, as we all know too well...

IV. There are Ways and Ways to Lose Your Cool. Indeed. Because when a floppy and useless scion of gonzo concludes that the radio around here, like, totally sucks, man; when the festering stew continues to rise, when desperate notes from Diamond Bar and West L.A. continually pour in with the last binge of SupaDupaPhat Tuesday; when shrill dispatches from the bent and rusty tubes are merely ripping fiction from the facts; when campaigns bloat and banshees scream and the Sox wear pinstripes, the ugly sum total completely destroys everything from artistic creativity to professional commitments to even grim commentary from Iraq. And so, in that case...

V. When the Truth is Too Strange, Don't Speak It. Why? Because no one's ever ready for it. They're all resigned to voyeuristic amateurism, marooned in a festering epidemic of island fever, or imprisoned in disjointed flashbacks and cringeworthy memories. The insidious riptide of doubt has placed them beyond mere chemical enhancement, with only a slow climb to dangerous altitudes in their immediate future. There is no escape. Sorry, pal. You were always my favorite maniac, but until you know how to stomp a brahmin as heavily as I do, you'll always be second best.

Because you don't know what I know, and that is this: those five visions are not the complete picture, and they never were. You'll have to make one helluva big jump to see that, babe. Are you up to it? You'll never know until you try.

Cross-posted: dd (witr).

June 24, 2008

Why Have the Cubs Sucked So Much for So Long?*


* As of today, the Cubbies have a first-place record of 48-29, so no, they're decidenly not sucking now, per se. For the majority of their postwar history, though, they've stunk. The illustrious Rob McMillin of the always-insightful 6-4-2 thinks he knows the reason, after concurrent readings of two books by Glenn Stout on both the Cubs and Dodgers: non-integration and inept ownership. Rob says the Cubs book illuminated "...something that has puzzled me for years, namely, how did the Cubs get to be so uniformly bad after their 1945 World Series appearance?" He continues:

Essentially, the answer came down to the Cubs' tentative, patronizing, and unenthusiastic owner, Philip K. Wrigley, who feigned interest in integration but always found excuses to avoid it. Goaded by Communist and civil rights activist William L. Patterson, Catholic Bishop Bernerd Sheil, the black press in the guise of the Chicago Defender, and other civil rights activists who had cajoled a meeting with him, Wrigley was in a unique position; had he wanted to, the Cubs could have been the first to desegregate. Certainly, he made all the right noises...but when it came to concrete action, Wrigley was far more circumspect. Despite the fact that "integrated basketball and football games ... had taken place" without violence, Wrigley felt certain that the country — meaning, undoubtedly, he — was not ready, saying, "The temper of people in baseball is very high." "I don't think the time is now," Wrigley retorted.
Apparently then-Cub owner Philip Wrigley is shown to be a master of ineptitude in not only race relations (hemming and hawing and clutching his spearmint-flavored pearls over Those Wild Negroes And What They'll Do To My Ballpark) but also in an executive/ownership capacity, poaching Dodger scout Wid Matthews from Brooklyn (who crashed and burned making bad trades) instead of raiding the then-minor league L.A. Angels (which Wrigley also owned) for talented players coming up. Of course, Jackie Robinson as well as other black stars like Campanella and Newcombe helped increase the distance between Brooklyn and the hapless Cubs, but according to author South, the Dodgers continued to rob Chicago of their best talent until it didn't matter anymore (and other teams like Pittsburgh stepped in). Of course, the Cubs attempted to rectify their mistake by signing the great Ernie Banks, but his brilliant play didn't take Chicago to any World Series games.

Anyway, Rob dropped this on all of us on the occasion of the Dodger/Cub all-time win/loss record equalizing, for the first time since 1890-something, at 1,011 wins and 1,011 losses. That's good enough for me; both books sound like a great read in this dismally bad season of Padre baseball. As if I even know what I'm talking about. Now, Chicago has had some good seasons, of course (though I only really remember 1984, '89, '98, and 2003), but they are kicking ass this year, so speaking of that 100-year Cub World Series drought...

June 20, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek, Part 2

This second helping of my work for the UCSB student paper is from the 1997/1998 school year, when I was a junior. My brother and about 18 of his classmates had come to school that year as freshmen, and little did these kids know that, aside from enjoying the privilege of my 21-year-old self buying them alcohol, they'd also get cameos in my revived "Battery Acid Blues" columns. It was a glorious and decadent year, the first real year that my old band the Mojo Wire played out in Isla Vista and recorded some vintage, '60s-sounding blues and surf songs.

I'd finally switched my major to English and went completely beserk, shaving my head, transforming into what amounted to a psychotic gigolo, and was given to indulge in controlled substances, melodramatic relationships, the fiction of Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis, and the heavy classics by Milton and Chaucer. Astonishingly, only fits and snatches of this wild and freakish year made it into my weekly columns. In terms of tone, that is; I was still testing the waters of my particular brand of diluted sub-surrealism, so some embarrassing juvenile mistakes will pop up in these things from time to time. But hell, you gotta stand up to what you done, and so I is.

Oh- quick note: last time I forgot to mention the weirdness with the dates. Well, the original dates that each column ran are given, but these posts are dated in 2002. The rationale is simply that's when I really started to learn HTML and beef up my own website, and posted my Nexus work up there to show off. Kind of like I'm doing now. So let's get to it- click on a column's title to read the whole thing.

Battery Acid Blues: New Adventures with the Mojo Wire (Oct. 2, 1997)
New year, new column, new band name, new characters: namely Adam's roommate Ian Shifrin, who was, and will always be, known as "The Mafia Man." Which is nice, actually, because that meant he'd no longer be known as "Hose me down!" Ian. Ho, ho.

“The Clap is dead. From the ashes of a popular and successful blues band has arisen a smaller band, skilled but unknown. The faces are the same and the talent remains, but what has arrived in Isla Vista, playing the most corrosive blues, the most reverb-drenched surf, the snappiest pop, and the cheesiest country is a new group called the Mojo Wire.” Kevin laughed at our attempt at self-promotion. “You twits,” he chided, “you think that will get you where you want to go? Hell, if people see that, they just might take you seriously, and you know that any band in Isla Vista who takes themselves seriously is laughed out of town as pretentious egomaniacs!”
Battery Acid Blues: Solving the Vexing Percussion Problem (Oct. 9, 1997)
This one, for a certain person I'm now married to, is valuable solely because of her appearance in the text. Probably because we weren't even close to being involved at the time.
Soon everyone was loopy. “Hey,” I offered, “I know what we could do to solve all our problems!” In the state of mind I was in, I must have made it sound like a revelation. They all looked at me like I was Moses come down the mountain. “Let’s steal this drummer! Let’s talk him out of this band, ‘cause we can get better than these guys, and if he won’t go, we’ll just cart him of after they finish the gig! There are a lot of us; we could do it!” Whether or not the guy actually wanted to go was beside the point, because he was good and we needed him, and, well, things would work out eventually, right? “All right,” answered Emily, “you four guys each get an arm and a leg, and we’ll each take a drum!”
Battery Acid Blues: A Humorless Weekend In Los Angeles (Oct. 16, 1997)
Truly a wretched trip, but I could have definitely written a better column about it. So many missed chances to nail dumb wankers to the wall. Ah well.
While I’ve been daydreaming about the nature of the universe, Adam has already reached one of his definitions of hell. Traffic is hopelessly snarled, the other drivers are jerks, and to top it off, the directions he got are less than helpful, and so now we’re getting a lovely tour of Bel Air. Ronald Reagan’s hood. O.J. Simpson’s turf. Everybody appreciates it but our driver, and by the time we’re pulled over by a rent-a-cop patrol car wondering what we’re doing here, Adam’s had it. Lucky for us, our fearless frontman only has eyes for our ultimate destination, and squeezes the information out of the chubby security guard faster than that guard could squeeze the jelly out of a doughnut. We soon arrive at the foot of UCLA’s Dykstra Hall.
Battery Acid Blues: The Hopeless Wankery of Critics (Oct. 23, 1997)
Mostly a mangled effort to describe how much less emotionally mature I was, in terms of taking criticism. Naturally, my bandmates were much better at it at a younger age.
Being in an unknown band is quite a peculiar position. “Unknown” is itself an inaccurate term for the band, since there are a large number of friends and family who know and love the music and support us no matter what. But in the eyes of the arbiters of cool in the music industry, we’re nobodies, just another half-assed garage band of white rock ‘n’ roll guys from the suburbs. We usually don’t mind this description, (except the half-assed part; we’re all proud of those) but we really don’t want to be confined by it. So, when we received our first real negative criticism, by one of our potential employers, it didn’t sit very well. No, that’s not entirely true. Bryn, Adam, and Kevin (when he was still our drummer) really didn’t care. It doesn’t matter to them if everyone loves the Mojo Wire except for one little critic. I, however, for some reason take it personally when someone says a creation of mine “sucks.”
Back For Good: Looking Up to Patti Smith (Oct. 23, 1997)
My first and only interview with a bona-fide Rock Star. Smith was fighting the second round of her mid-1990s comeback, and had probably already done 500 or so interviews that week, but she was nevertheless very kind and patient with me, an obvious amateur, and it was fun hearing her enthuse about her son's burgeoning guitar skills. I still have the tape somewhere, actually.
"I think that people that have a calling just need to keep working and be focused on the development of their craft. Not that they shouldn’t try to perform or get published, but not to look at such things as a barometer of their worth. They’ll learn themselves, because in the end, fame is fleeting. People will sell two million records and then the the next year nobody remembers them. What’s really important is the quaility of the work, and if it’s good work it will endure.

I think that if one has a true calling they should follow that calling, but they should also be ready to go through a certain amount of pain. To feel that is an honor or a privilege, cause it’s not easy; being any type of artist is rough work. Very few people are given a break and part of it is being able to do the work itself. The reward often is just being part of that human chain of the whole evolutionary process of art, and sometimes there’s a lot of humiliation attached to it [and that] doesn't really stop. Sometimes people on a large scale, they just don't get it, but you can't let that kind of thing be your driving force. You have to be sturdy- being an artist is not for the faint-hearted and you have to be proud that you are what you are. You have to be a proud bum."
Battery Acid Blues: The Wisdom of Jackson Hammer (Feb. 14, 1998)
This column has the distinction of finally raising the ire of then-Nexus editor-in-chief Marc Valles, who reportedly hit the roof when he found out I'd made it all up. Where he'd been for the other eleven-odd examples of my fictitious bullshit is a mystery. Jolie had attached a random photo of a blues man and ran the fucking thing with a fine-print, nebulous caveat saying, well, it sort of might all be fake. I've apologized to Marc on several occasions for this one, but always at a safe distance.
"...Now there seems to be another revival of the blues again, and it's even more diluted than before. I mean, in the sixties there was the first revival, with Cream and Clapton and Zeppelin and all of those other gunslingers and their fretboard gymnastics ripping off American black musicians, and then in the eighties there was a second revival with Stevie Ray Vaughan that kind of died after he did. Now there are all these young blond kids out there like Johnny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd that were raised on heavy metal and other kinds of wank-a-rama bullshit, and they're being touted as the next coming of greatness and they get to tour with, like, B.B. King or some other geezer who had their songs and style stolen thirty years ago. I don't really consider myself any kind of purist, but it's sad to see a form diluted so much by people who know or care so little about its background. Same with ska; It's become frat-goon music."
Battery Acid Blues: Scrambled Visions In Calabasas (Mar. 21, 1998)
This one actually didn't run as a column in the paper, even though I'd typed it all up. At the last minute, though, I decided it was awful- it made no sense at all- and since I felt sort of in hot water with Valles over the Jackson Hammer thing, I never turned it in. It's so completely bizarre, though, that I just have to include it with the rest as a twisted "Battery Acid" finale. I don't remember what ridiculous justification I found to stop writing for the Nexus, but it happened, and I think it was my editor's senior year, too, and after Jolie was gone I wasn't keen on testing the waters with someone less receptive to my weirdness. Anyway:
Last night I had a fabulously weird dream. The Mojo Wire had just finished playing a great gig, and so appropriately the band was in my dream. All of us- Adam, Bryn, Joe and I were driving south on the 101 through what looked like Calabasas. The hills were all green-brown, California hills that are all saturated for one month and then choked with mud and dead grass for the other eleven. They undulated into the southern distance toward Malibu like great bubbling milkshakes. Milkshakes? Of course. We’d stopped at Jack-In-The-Crack for milkshakes. Bryn slurped loudly in the seat behind me, and then gave a great belch. Adam began to laugh and drive at the same time- a very dangerous thing for him to do. We swerved between two semis like Luke Slywalker infiltrating the Death Star, and Popov the hamster screamed like Chewbacca.
It gets much crazier from there. Sort of. Ah, the consequences of unleashing raw talent. Okay, so now that my first faltering stabs at published writing are behind us, we can proceed to my short-lived but more "respectable" [read: scenester-ific boosterism!] stuff for the Santa Barbara Independent. Plus some other music-related crap from that era (2001-2003) when I was a bureaucrat by day and rock & roll egomaniac by night. All next week, right back here at the DV.

June 19, 2008

East Ventura by Bicycle

Specifically, Bristol Street and North Bank drive along the Santa Clara riverbed. East Ventura is a weird patchwork of farm fields and suburbia, often right next to each other. You can almost guess when a particular farmer sold land by guessing at the year/decade of the homes- some postwar bungalows, some 60s/70s-types, some 80s/90s red-tiles, etc.

It's odd, but probably only for me, cause juxtapositions like that were pretty much gone from Orange County by the time I was paying attention as a kid. There was a massive farm field next to my middle school in San Juan, but that's long since been converted to athletic fields. Anyway, all the shots below are actually from an instant camera instead of the digital. Haven't found a way to take it on a ride without risking instant destruction.

Going east on Bristol looking north.


The suburbs are right across the street from fruit-packing plants.


The plant owners are famous companies.




Power trio of signage


Railroad looking east


Railroad looking south arcoss the riverbed toward Oxnard


File under "farm tools I am ignorant of."


Bridge over barranca near Petite and Telephone roads.


Santa Clara riverbed, dry as a bone in summer.

June 15, 2008

I Will Speak Ill of the Dead


In light of the recent passing of one Mr. Russert, many in the blogosphere have tried to note that, well, the ensuing hagiography is kind of morbid and weird. Those people have been vociferously shouted down by others who demand that "we not speak ill of the dead." Well, I'm gonna go there. I'm gonna speak badly of the illest of the ill.

Adolf Hitler was a mass-murdering fuckhead, a one-balled, stunted, sexually-frustrated revenge junkie who had the gall to manipulate his entire nation's feelings of post-WWI inadequacy only to completely wreck it all in a king-hell, epic case of death-by-cop. Oh, and fuck him for killing all those innocent people in such horrible ways.

Josef Stalin was an illiterate pigfucker who clawed his way to the top of the Soviet pyramid by killing a bunch of pansy academics who'd never been in a real fight in their lives. As icing on the cake, he took their pretty little redistributive theories and deployed them with all the subtleties available to his tiny back-country brain. Fuck him sideways for killing all those innocent people, too.

Alexander of Macedon was a power-mad pretty boy who saw fit to inflict his sick and twisted Oedipus complex upon every ancient civilization he could get his fey little hands on. After that, the egomaniacal little brat saw fit to not even care that everything he did would turn to shit after his death. Oh, and he was short, too. And fuck him as well for killing all those people way back when.

Napoleon Bonaparte was fucking French, okay? Let's get that one on the table right away. Well, Corsican, but close enough. And short. And crazy enough to force his army of pliant cheese-eaters to march into Russia IN WINTER with what can only be described as a deranged, morbid attempt at an own-goal. He took a country mired in violent, bloody post-revolutionary fallout and made it even worse. Fuck him on general principles.

Mao Tse-Tung forced everyone stupid enough to follow him on a wild-goose chase through the ugly boondocks of his destroyed country just because he fucking could. Plus he killed lots of people. And, like the previous assholes I've mentioned, the dude had absolutely zero sense of humor. Fuck him AND his Great Leaps and Cultural Revolutions.

Gaius Caligula married his sister and made his horse a goddamned senator (wait, is that a sense of humor? Does he belong on this list?), all the while single-handedly laying bare his family's disgusting imperial lifestyle by maiming his slaves, humiliating his legionaires, conducting perverse and decadent mass orgies with his courtiers, and speeding his civilization toward further dictatorial decline by forcing his own guards to kill him.

Hernando Cortez was so fucking fox-crazy that he got away with destroying an entire civilization of ruthless, violent, cannibalistic overlord Aztecs. Not only that, but his lackeys like De Soto and Alvarado learned well, and exported his skills across the continent, killing even more natives and raping their women.

Obviously, I could go on. Idi Amin, General Tojo, the Duke of Wellington, Saddam Hussein, Richard Nixon, Pablo Escobar, Pinochet, Pol Pot. But you get the picture. Oh- hang on, here's another: Andrew Jackson looooooved killin' them Injuns too. Wait, but he was an American, and a president to boot, so that makes it completely different. Right? Hmmmm....

Bonus video- Tim Russert vs. Hunter S. Thompson:



Cross-posted: dkos, pff.

June 14, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek, Part 1

So when I first announced I was gonna do these recycling re-post thingies, I joked that when I was hired at the UCSB student paper in early 1997 it was "a hilarious lapse of professional judgement," apparently on the part of...someone. Well that someone was probably not my new editor, Jolie Lash. Jolie was in charge of the Artsweek section, and though I still don't know why she did it, after I wrote a few CD reviews not even worth mentioning, offered me my own Artsweek column every Thursday. Staff artists would illustrate it periodically with cartoons. I could write about anything I wanted as long as there was something in there about music. Little did she know what a fatal combination this would be.

See, the previous year Bryn and Adam had formed a blues "band" in high school, called it The Clap and asked me to be their bassist. Also, since 1996 had been an election year, I had re-immersed myself in Hunter Thompson's books of political weirdness, which I hadn't cracked open since I was high school myself. So my column, which was eventually called "Battery Acid Blues," ended up reading like a weekly cocktail of a whinier "High Fidelity" plus a cheap knockoff of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Pretty cringeworthy, but it was fun most of the time. I'd slip into Jolie's office at the Nexus and furtively bash out each column on an ancient, green-screened IBM computer, then flee the scene immediately. I therefore didn't end up spending too much time with my newspapery-student colleagues.

Okay then, that's enough backstory. Here we go with the first group of my Artsweek stuff from spring '97. It was bad and ugly, but for better or worse this is how it all began. Click on a column's title to read the whole thing.

Name Droppings: All-Access at the Grammys (Feb. 27, 1997)
Talk about gonzo rip-offs. My first pre-"Battery Acid" column was a pretty weak stab at the "overwhelmed journalist seeks a big story" idea, and was of course complete fiction (as all of these things are), including an interview with Beck:

I promptly produced my trusty tape recorder and talked with the injured Beck about anything and everything until he was wheeled out again, leaving me alone with the TVs, which now showed Lyle Lovett pissing off the entire Nashiville industry by accepting his award for Best Country Album. As the interview tape rewound, I pushed “play” laughing out loud at Lovett’s pompadoured Afro and goofy smile. I stopped laughing when I realized that my recorder had been low on batteries and had taped the interview I’d just finished at half speed and even less. My first question rambled on for way too long, especially considering that the tape delay caused my voice to sound like a tranquilized hippo. Beck’s response, played back by the powerless machine at about two revolutions per minute, echoed through the room a garbled “Msadcb&$f#$sF$%dvmmnS#!%***.
Battery Acid Blues: The Bouncing Black Lung (Apr. 24, 1997)
My first "Battery Acid" column was a little better. Not fantastic of course, but it does get effectively more surreal and "what the fuck" as it goes along:
Later during the press conference the band was asked if they had known that a heart attack had taken place at the location of their show. “Now wait just a minute!” croaked the singer, whose strained voice by now was practically inaudible, so that once it could be determined by everyone else of his intention to speak due to his wildly flailing hands, the band, their manager, and their lawyer had already vigorously denied the incident. By now the conference was silent. They craned to hear his wisdom. “Yeah, there was a heart attack, but so what? With all the junk that gets injected around here, she was lucky it was just a heart attack!”

The congregation was stupefied. “Yeah, uh, yeah,” he continued, but that was as far as he got before collapsing into a coughing fit that during its course deposited at his feet his left lung, which, as soon as its nicotine-darkened sliminess hit the floor, slid down the ramp, gaining velocity until it sped along the tile and out the door before screeching to a halt and disintegrating from exhaustion, nearly one hundred eighty-three feet from its gasping owner. All along its path the bouncing black lung had caused silent, open-mouthed stares from the entire press corps. As the lung gurgled its last it was beheld with extreme curiosity by all, none of whom thought for a second about the man from whence it spewed, including himself, until he realized he could not hold his breath any longer. The loud gagging of the singer brought everyone back from their own personal surreal universes, but not quickly enough for anyone to save him from his own excess.
Battery Acid Blues: Bargain Shopping at PopMart (May 1, 1997)
I tried to translate the gonzo ripoff vibe to a concert review. It didn't work, with spectacularly awful results, but then that U2 tour was often like that, right?
U2 took the stage to mass hysteria, entering from the back of the stadium and shimmying toward the stage like the techno-mavens they so want to be. We were already slightly sloshed and gladly took part in said madness, though we were wrong in thinking that we would be the most inebriated- as U2 strode fearlessly down the aisle next to our seats, drummer Larry Mullen noticed a toasted male yuppie two rows in front of us putting the moves on a gorgeous but unflattered girl next to him. Before all of our eyes in eye-popping video techno-color, Larry put on his sheriffs badge and became John Wayne, taking the drunk yup by his nose and beating the crap out of him as we all cheered with vicious bloodlust.
Battery Acid Blues: Writing Wretched Breakup Songs (May 8, 1997)
More weird fiction. I tried to meld a breakup story with a "band getting dropped by their label" story. Ah, to be young and stupid.
It was a twisted, pathetic tale, and it had everything- lust, betrayal, superficiality, cheap controlled substances, dumb jealousy, vindictive manipulation- the works. It had threatened to suck everyone within a 200-foot radius into its putrid, festering maw, what with the rending of garments, pulling of hair, and throwing of previously cherished possessions off fifth-story balconies. Jake had even called me up a few times amidst the concurrent saga of The Clap’s crumbling record deal, simply to blubber and moan about how unfair it all was, and he was so consistently unintelligible that I couldn't tell if he was talking about the band's rejection or his blasted relationship. Ultimately, I guess it didn't matter; he ended up in therapy, his ex was confined to rehab, and we came in a distant and hapless third. I pretended to care, but secretly I cursed the whole awful situation for alienating other labels, whose erstwhile interest in The Clap might have precipitated conspicuous and flashy bidding wars.
Battery Acid Blues: Catch The Clap! One Night Only! (May 15, 1997)
At this point I'd just decided, fuck it- I'd simply just continue to make shit up and fill space, but explaining the band name ended up being fun:
We hadn’t reckoned on all of the implications of our name, but we soon came up with a semi-serious reason for it. We argued that, well, we’re a blues band, and the blues in its original form had been widely regarded by whites as everything from dirty to oversexed to downright satanic. The dirty part was right; musically most electric blues is amplified to a distorted, fuzzy-souding level. The sexy part was right, too; blues rhythms derived ultimately from ancient African percussion beats, which were very animated, enough to get one’s groove thing going in a matter of seconds. It started at dancing and then went from there. The devil-music thing was more a combination of the other two traits seen through the conservative eyes of white southern Baptists, but the legendary Robert Johnson was said to have learned the blues from a man who learned himself from playing guitar while sitting on a tombstone at midnight.
Battery Acid Blues: The Many Pitfalls of Stardom (May 22, 1997)
This one was simply an impenetrable wall of pure bullshit. I tried to take on the "selling out" concept and ended up making absolutely no sense at all:
In other words some artists are just too damn anal. It’s one thing to try and challenge the collective intellect of the public, but it’s quite another to become so pretentious so as to think that one has to create second-rate art just so that people won’t have to think too hard to understand it. Artists aren’t always as brilliant as they think they are, and the public isn’t as stupid as the artists think. The people know that they can make or break a career by using their wallets as a weapon, and if it turns out that someone’s work doesn’t sell until after their death, well, sometimes those are the breaks. The public can’t appreciate everything all at once, but that doesn’t make them inherent cretins.
Battery Acid Blues: Shameful Disintegration On Tour (June 5, 1997)
I decided to make the last column of the school year worth reading, and so went out with a simultaneous bang and whimper of complete chaos:
"My brother Bryn and I woke up at 3 AM that morning, hijacked our tattered van, and drove back to ‘Frisco with all of our road money. Sure, this was a horrible thing to do, but he’d just seen “Trainspotting” and I’d just read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and because both of us were ridiculously inebriated, so we had no qualms at all about ditching Kev and Adam. We were crossing the Bay Bridge into Oakland when Bryn suddenly pulled a .357 Magnum on me and demanded all of the money and to be let off the van right now. “Now?” I said, eying the gun. “We’re on the bridge, you dolt!”

“I don’t care!” he screamed, his face flushed with drink and lack of sleep. “Stop the van and let me off, or I swear to Elvis I’ll shoot!” At this point I didn’t care if he was my brother or Kevin’s terrorist prodigy. I let him off right there, which just happened to be in the middle of the bridge on Treasure Island. Two weeks later he arrived home in I.V. in a crate stamped “U.S. NAVY.” Adam and Kevin hitch-hiked their way back here in a car full of gorgeous girls, who dumped Kev in Isla Vista (after he stole their bikinis) and drove Adam, singing all the way, to Cabo San Lucas. I bet he was singing all the way, but I didn’t hear from him for a month."
So now I'm sure you're all just pants-pissingly excited to read next week's installment of my second stint at the Nexus, from fall '97 to spring '98, right? Well, it does have a real interview with Patti Smith in there. Read all about it next Saturday...

June 12, 2008

O.C. Location Shots #3: Outtakes

Big-ass photo post! The shameless revisionism will have to wait one more post, cause we've got outtake photos to purge, right? Right. 13 of them to be exact:

Road shots: the 5 freeway in...Anaheim,


...Santa Ana,


...and SANTA ANA.


Coast Highway in Capistrano Beach


Up on the Capo Beach cliffs looking toward Dana Point Harbor


Spying on the house I grew up in, Dana Point. Dunno who lives there now.


Above the park ramp: "Whatchoo lookin' at?"


Sea Canyon Park in Dana Point


Spying on my grandparents' house in Monarch Beach. Dunno who lives there now either.


More Monarch Beach


Coast Highway near the Ritz


Harbor House on PCH. I needed a night shot but time didn't allow...


Fatherhood has not slowed Adam's baseball reflexes. Bryn is no match, and neither was I.

June 07, 2008

Shameless Revisionism Looms on the Horizon

Original SR Posts:
UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek #1 (1997) 6.14.08
UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek #2 (1997-1998) 6.20.08
Santa Barbara Independent (2001-2003) 6.29.08
@U2 Essays (2001-2005) 7.5.08
Genre-Bending Gonzo (2002-2005) 7.12.08
My Band Rocks #1: The Mojo Wire (1997-2001) 7.19.08
My Band Rocks #2: Honey White (2002-2007) 7.23.08
Soapblox Rants #1 (2007) 8.1.08
Soapblox Rants #2 (2008) 8.9.08
Unfinished Fiction #1 (2002-2003) 8.15.08
Unfinished Fiction #2 (2003-2007) 8.23.08

UPDATE 11/29/08: New stuff in Fall '08 means there are now 13 Shameless Revisionism links:
Election Rants, 2004 Edition 11.26.08
Soapblox Rants #3 (2008) 11.29.08

UPDATE II 6/14/09: The series is now in the midst of a Summer '09 revival:
Genre-Bending Gonzo #2 (2008-2009) 6.6.09
Requiem for a Music Geek (2008-2009) 6.14.09
Soapblox Rants #4 (2008-2009) 6.20.09
Soapblox Rants #5 (2009) 6.25.09
The Weapon of Young Gods (2008-2009) 7.3.09

Original Post That (Sort Of) Explains It All:
So I've decided to do something with the Dubious Ventures blog that might actually better reflect my impulses to egomaniacally anthologize, canonize, and otherwise re-visit the various and sundry scrawlings I've published and posted since about 1997 (when the UCSB student paper hired me, in a hilarious lapse of professional judgement). The DV blog has languished in the shadow of my band blog and my book blog, so it's high time to clean the bastard out and give it some well-needed Purpose. Not really a redesign- more of a re-content-ification. Or something.

Yes, that's right- this weblog will now be about 75% Shameless Revisionism. I've got a bizarre portfolio of writing, and I believe it's always been my job to foist it on the unsuspecting masses (who nevertheless usually ignore it). I've also maintained a website in some form or another since about 1999, and started this blog around (I think) December 2003. Since then it's been host to a wild grab-bag of stuff, the worst of which is often quietly deleted in periodic purges of bad taste. Some stuff is actually worth keeping, though, and so a few months ago I threatened to release my own compilation of gonzo papers. And promptly forgot about it.

Until now. I've embarrassed myself in print or pixel in many ways, and the DV will belatedly adopt tags in order to present all this crap in a somewhat organized way. Not everything is completely up yet, but you can, for example, review every word of fanboy-addled pablum I lavished on U2. Or trawl through my sordid history of music journalism at UCSB. Or cringe through every surreal screed I've ever cross-posted at the wacky Soapblox-powered liberal-progressive feeding troughs currently masquerading as "online political communities." Not to mention regular self-aggrandizing posts about my bands and fiction writing.

I'll highlight a particular flavor every week, linking every relevant post and adding what willl undoubtedly prove to be riotously funny annotations and comments.

You've been warned...um, again, I guess.

June 06, 2008

Fiction Location Shots #2: Daytime

Well, the 2nd half of OC-location-photo posting got interrupted, as you might have noticed, by events from the presidential campaign. No matter. The daytime shots (some of which are a little photo-shopped) are displayed below. More Dana Point photos here (from Strands and the harbor) that I shot back in November.

Capistrano Beach (for chapters 26, 28, and 30)




Monarch Beach and the Dana Point Headlands
(for chapters 10 and 48)



Santiago St. and Sea Canyon Park
(for chapters 8 and 46):



I also took lots of photos that aren't really for the book, and they'll be put up soon, too. Tomorrow I'm taking the camera on my Sunday bike ride through East Ventura, and you know what that means: more boring road shots, but from a different city this time!

June 04, 2008

When the Banshee Screamed for Thatcher 2.0



I didn't notice it at first. I was under the all-consuming headphones, demolishing my remaining hearing with an album called Diamond Hoo Ha, deep within the selfish recesses of my own warped and spoiled suburban mind. It was the night of yet another dipshit, two-bit primary in some states, and an even skimpier night of civic duty here on the Central Coast, so the low whine was indistinguishable from Gaz Coombs and Measure G and Proposition 99 and the rest of existence's dull roar.

Then I recognized it, processed the foul frequency in my debilitating cerebrum, and promptly dismissed it. Popular vote Florida Michigan in to win why'd he back when I was president blah blah fucking blah. Another primary is lost and yet won. Another goal post is moved and yet there are still points scored and funds raised and egos stroked and babies kissed and blood sucked and brains fried in this stupefying death march of a Democratic primary. The ciphers croaked on. The mirrors kept reflecting. The desperate projection couldn't stop thinking about tomorrow.

The phone rang and it was my brother. "Dude, are you watching this? What the fuck is up with her, man?" Cue long discussion mostly centered on my complete inability, at this late date, to summon up the righteous fury needed for actual celebration. It wasn't over yet, I told him. Couldn't be. The streets ran thick with Bubbas and soccer moms still ruled the earth. Surely.

"I don't think so, Keir," he said. No, trust me, bro. The deadened impulse of Sloth is strong with me, and lo, I know it when it beckons. That scream you hear is just the result of another flesh wound, another cut in the hundreds of thousands inflicted upon the staggering hulk of hubristic inertia that is this primary. No one is safe from its vicious tentacles. Hell, it even got me, didn't it? Me, who supposedly knew better, vowed never again to so emotionally invest myself in this farce of role-playing we Americans call an "election," and swore to avoid the giddy, euphoric pseudo-high when History bashes down your door, kicks a room full of ass, and knows it doesn't need to even bother with taking names, since they'll be offered up with orgiastic glee.

"Fine," he said, shrugging through the phone. "Go on with your sorry-assed self and szlvrealegubvn uidv."

What? I didn't catch that last bit.

"I said vbddsaerareiosdc fe—"

There was a split-second of silence, and then Bryn's voice was cut off by a violent "EEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The low whine had suddenly crested into a horrendous spiraling shriek of immense power. It cut across the spacious skies and purple mountains and amber waves with the force of a comet, dissolving everything in its path to smoking cinders of dark matter.

"OMFGOMFGOMFG!!!!!" I thought, and instantly knew I was beaten. Thinking in fucking acronyms was the surest sign of relapse. I'd gone straight through the seven steps and crashed head-on into the concrete wall of election junkiedom yet again. I knew that voice. I knew it was Her, and that she was in terrible, terrible pain, and I couldn't help but sneer a little. It was bad, bad, baaaad mojo—the worst is always involved when you revel in another's pain—but I succumbed to it with a willing grace I never knew I had. I clicked off the phone and tossed the headphones across the room, yelling with maniacal abandon as a demented counter to the globe-encircling shriek, which had only intensified with the passing minutes.

It was not to be silenced by the venal chatterings of the media, nor the meandering wheezings of Straight Talk that farted out of some listless hall in West Bumfucksville. No, neither was it to be denied by the ecstatic paeans of desperate joy gushing out of Minneapolis, where The Annoited One sang his best one-note concerto to himself. No. The Shriek conquered all, and in doing so it conquered Death itself, lurching through the astral plane and beyond the bleating fellatio of superdelegates and millionare pundits and disgraced lobbyists and lonely polling place workers. The Shriek gloried in its own Un-Death, reveled in its sub-natural existence, stuck between dimensions and forever imprisoned within its own gargantuan ego.

And somewhere, the Falkland Islands shuddered in fear. Stephen Patrick Morrissey felt the eyes of the psychopath on his back, Gerry Adams acquiesced to his 3000th migraine, and Old Dutch grinned stupidly beneath the walls of his mausolean library. But they were all of them mistaken, for it was not Maggie who had disturbed their ancient slumber. It was not She of the Iron Granny-Pants who rumbled the stratospheric rafters with her scream.

No. It was the First Lady, fat and swollen with an Everest of campaign debt, and she was Singing.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, pff, mlw.

June 03, 2008

Fiction Location Shots #1: Nighttown

Big-ass photo post with O.C. settings for my novel. They're done up with links to the relevant chapters (and yes, some are photoshopped a little- it's fiction, isn't it?), so just dive in.

The Road (for chapters 20, 22, 32, 38, and 40)






Aliso Peak (at night, for chapters 1, 11, and 42)




The Harbor, Stratford, and Thunderbird (for chapters 24, 9/27, and 29)





Dana Point & Capo Beach by day, tomorrow...

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